From the Prioress

Reflections for Golden Jubilee 2018
September 22, 2018

I am Sister Anne Wambach, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, and on behalf of all of the sisters of our community, I welcome you to Mount Saint Benedict as we celebrate this very special occasion: the 50th, the Golden Jubilee of our Sisters Mary Susan Hallstein, Marla Bleil, Janet Goetz, Dorothy Stoner and Susan Freitag.

All of you‒their sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, friends and co-workers and oblates have had a special role in their lives and, in turn, in enriching the life of our community. We are so glad that you are able to celebrate with us today.

In one way, these sisters have already been celebrating their Golden Jubilee for a year now. Among the ways they marked this memorable time was to join together and read, study and share aspects of their monastic life—much as we all did as novices and sisters in formation. But, today, they come to it with the eyes of jubilarians, with the years of experience and, certainly, the wisdom these many years have given them.

One of the books they chose was by one of today’s renowned monastic authors, the Australian Cistercian monk Michael Casey. We hosted Fr. Casey here at the Mount a few years ago and many of us have read his outstanding books on monastic life. We know that, for all of us who are living this life day in and day out, Casey’s books are inspirational, challenging and very meaningful.

The book our jubilarians chose was Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living. This is Casey’s reflections on Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict—wherein Benedict lays out what are also called the “Tools for Good Works” that monastics, and all Christians for that matter, should strive to emulate.

After perusing this book myself, I would like to share with you just three of the seventy-four “tools” and hope that I have captured some of the meaning that they had for our celebrating sisters and for all of us who join them today.

Chapter 4’s first verses are familiar: Benedict begins by encouraging his followers to keep the Commandments—then he adds the Corporal Works of Mercy and even the Golden Rule. He offers a listing of Christian virtues and good deeds, all of which were certainly already familiar to his monks.

Here, 1500 years later, we are looking at Benedict’s list and applying them to this time, this culture and this world.

The first one I wish to emphasize is verse 21. It is in essence a summary of what came before it—and what will come after it:
“To put nothing before the love of Christ.”

To put nothing before the love of Christ is one of the most frequently cited verses in the Rule of Benedict. Casey writes, “Monastic life is all about personal devotion to Christ, living in union with him through imitation, opening oneself to his teaching, seeking to live mindfully in his presence, serving him in the needy and seeking union with him in prayer….”

As all Christians can attest, it is this following of the gospels, that shows us the way to life, through the life of Jesus. It is a goal for all of us—including for monastic women and men.

One of the ways we Benedictines foster this is through a practice called lectio divina, a type of reflection/meditation, most often on the scriptures and wisdom of the ages that we hope leads us to a deeper understanding and commitment to Jesus and to Jesus’ message.
The second tool is in verse 19: “To console one who is feeling pain.”

The world in which we are living today—be it as individuals, within our families, cities, country or the global community—is experiencing great hardships, seemingly impossible challenges and great, great pain and suffering.

The pains brought on from hunger and homelessness, from chemical and physical abuses, the agonies of psychological pain, and the sufferings of loneliness, fear and helplessness are realities for thousands of our sisters and brothers—those very near to us and those thousands of miles away.

We cannot only speak words of comfort, though speak we must;
We must not only pray for them, though we must offer our prayers;
We must move from sympathy to empathy—from thoughts to actions;
We must console others by being with them in their experience and in working for relief and release from the painful life that engulfs them.

Fr. Casey writes, “The paramount expression of empathy is an attitude of attentive listening that pervades our whole being, offering the hospitality of our heart to the other person.” Consolation for those in pain is indeed a tool of the monastic life and, indeed, every way of life.

The third and final tool of good works is a combination of verses 70 and 71:
“To venerate the seniors and to love the juniors.”

Here is one of the many places in the Rule of Benedict where Benedict is pointing out the primacy of relationships—the importance of the community itself.

Those who have been in the community for years are to be encouraging to newer members: to offer affirmation and acceptance; to support and encourage members in their beginning years, by respecting their ideas, questions and enthusiasm and by consoling them in their difficult moments and challenges.

The sisters who are “juniors” are urged to view the seasoned senior sisters with respect, listening to them, seeking their wisdom and acknowledging their experience from their many years of monastic living.

These interactions are not particular to religious life. The members of a family, people in a workplace and in any other groups where we regularly interact with others, will be a more contented and peaceful place the more we are respectful and caring for each other—young, old, experienced, novice, with those similar to ourselves and with those unique in their differences. It is truly a crucial part of any group dynamics and relationships.

Having lived monastic life faithfully for 50 years, the jubilarians have re-visited the Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living to enrich, encourage and sustain them for the years still to come.

We are very grateful for your lives, sisters, and for all that you have brought to our community and to the world: your talents, your commitments, your love for monastic life for over five decades!

Jubilee congratulations to you and may the joy of today be with you all the days of your life.

Sister Anne Wambach, OSB, the twenty-first prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania is a native of Philadelphia. She moved to Mount St. Benedict Monastery in 1992 to respond to a desire to experience the monastic way of life. Previously a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill, Sister Anne began the formal transfer process to the Erie Benedictines in 1993 and made her monastic profession in 1997.

Sister Anne has served the people of the Diocese of Erie as a teacher at St. Gregory's School in North East, Pa., from 1992-1995, and at the Neighborhood Art House in Erie, beginning as program director in 1995 and as executive director since 2005. She served on the Monastic Council from 2006-2010.